Monday, June 02, 2008

TV-Free Week

Crunchy unschoolers walk a line on the subject of television.

As unschoolers, we recognize the value of the easily-accessible medium of TV, with its great potential to be educational -- even if every last SpongeBob Squarepants storyline and Cartoon Network themesong weren't on the list of things we hoped our kids would know by age 6.

As refugees from the Kill Your Television camp, we're ducking and covering -- by avoiding the conversation of avoiding television.

Why? Because we read people like Sandra Dodd, who assures us that TV won't actually kill our kids' brains, and might even give them things to think about.

Believe me, I tried to avoid television. We didn't even own one the first five years we were married.

But when my oldest was just learning to talk, I was an exhausted, postpartum, mother of two in cloth diapers, and I didn't have enough brain power to keep a continuous stream of words going to narrate his world and help him learn English. Instead, he memorized the script of Ice Age, after discovering the joy of animated features at my mom's house. Soon after, she bought us our own TV, so we'd go home every once in a while.

I promise, his vocabulary and speech patterns are much expanded since then -- in a good way. (I'm not sure the male obsession with bodily functions is at all avoidable, or even related to television.)

I've spent plenty of time watching how my kids watch tv, and noticing what they learn from what they watch. While they are particularly attuned to storylines and themesongs, that's not the worst thing in the world. What is a television episode if not a chapter in a story? And we all know how important music is for the brain, right?

They've also learned countless things about the natural world. They've learned a little Spanish, a little Chinese, a little mythology, a little politics, and a lot more. And they don't sit and stare at the television for hours. They are rarely just watching TV. They're often playing with Legos, having a snack, running back and forth updating me on the latest joke -- all at the same time.

My point is, I know they are not frying their brains when they watch TV.
So then, why are we attempting to live without it for a whole week?

Because I've also noticed how easily I can settle myself into the chair in front of the computer while the boys appear to be engrossed in a favorite show. And how the time can stretch along without them complaining, but past the point where I know they'd probably rather do something that required my involvement, if only I were more engaged with them.

Both TV and the Internet are an endless source of learning potential -- and therefore also easily distracting from other activities we want to do. Especially when we're tired. The other thing I've noticed is that the busier we are outside of the house, the more likely we are to come home and "veg out" in front of the screens.

So, we agreed to take this week to set some new habits. More time outside in the morning when the weather's nice. More time together in the afternoons reading, baking, playing games, or doing projects we've been thinking of.

We're slowing down a little, so we have the energy to do the things we really want to. Today we skipped storytime at the library (another endless source of learning potential that can suck up all the free space in your living room!). We still had plenty to read from last week, and we were enjoying ourselves in the garden too much to rush.

The day went surprisingly smoothly. I realized my older two often go to the TV when they're transitioning from one activity to another, even looking for creative inspiration. The first transition without that option was a little bumpy, but it got easier. They spent most of the afternoon playing creatively with each other, like they usually do with friends, but lately have often struggled to do just the two of them.

They also helped me bake -- and eat -- another peach cobbler. Because that's what we needed after all the birthday cake yesterday!


Emily said...

Good for you guys! When we did a month-long TV Turnoff the first time I was actually surprised how much it changed our days.

Bobbi said...

that is great! we've done that also. there is Alot of research that has been done on the effects of television on youngsters and even adults!
i have to say that when you told me to google unschooling, sandra dodd came up and as i was reading the things that she wrote about television and letting your kids basically do whatever they please and there was also a post about teenagers have sex, that's life. it really scared me. i was a little standoffish (if that's a word) about the unschooling. then you wrote to me about what it means to you and it soothed my soul.

Butterfly Mama said...

We frequently take days off of tv and well now we sold our big huge widescreen beast that we bought pre kids and pre house and plan to buy something smaller shortly. It's amazing that we have survived so many weeks without it!!! LOL

Good for you guys - I often find that my 3 1/2 year old will come to me saying he's hungry when he's transitioning from one thing to the next too. Silly.


Heather said...

We don't have cable--even though there is TONS of wonderful educational stuff my husband and I both work from home and need to not be able to sit down at the tv and watch nothing for hours. The kids have zillions of dvd's, a Wii, and we have Netflix. They don't actually like regular tv anyway--commercials irritate them and they like choosing what to watch. And most of the time after they watch a movie a few times they are too busy for tv.

Bobbi said...

i just bought a nintendo wii. i pulled a leg muscle today bowling(i'll just say it's a sports injury) it's great exercise in this heat!

Wendy said...

I like this idea. While I completely agree that television has its very positive points, and we don't restrict television in our unschooling household, I also think it doesn't have to be the first thing my children turn to when they're bored. My goal is to try to steer them toward other activities. I don't say no to the television, but I will suggest other things :).

I'll look forward to hearing more about your experience, and if you think it's worthwhile to continue the experiment beyond the one week.

Karen said...

I know this is an old post, but I thought I'd leave a comment.

One thing that people don't seem to thing about with kids and TV is how it is part of our culture.

My family didn't have a TV until I was a teen. I felt it kept me a little out of touch from other kids I met. Apart from the fact that they found the idea of no tv unbelievable, I was often left completley out of conversations, like Muppets? What the heck are they? It really made me self-concious. I think it's sometimes better to have a tv but teach your kids where the off button is and how to use it.

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